Sharing messages of universal brotherhood, and noting the religious and cultural traditions of people around the world, Ambassador Le Cong Phung of Vietnam joined with Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy on Dec. 1 to open this year's Festival of Lights at the Washington D.C. Temple and Visitors Center. Together they pressed the switch that illuminated the Temple grounds with more than half a million lights.
A popular tradition in the nation's capital for 33 years, the Festival of Lights features a month-long series of musical performances and events open to the public.
It begins with a two-night lighting ceremony for Washington-area diplomats and their families and staffs. This year more than 30 ambassadors and nine members of the U.S. Congress attended the event, which included a performance by the Mormon Choir of Washington D.C.
Elder J.W. Marriott Jr., an Area Seventy, hosted the evening as he has for each of the previous years.
"This ceremony is not only about the lights," Ambassador Phung said. "It is also an opportunity for members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who begin the season of festivity by sharing the atmosphere of peace and hope, of tolerance and sympathy, by building a greater understanding among people of different religions and cultures, and by contributing to the common cause of peace and prosperity, freedom and dignity for all and each person on Earth."
The ambassador referred to a growing spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood around the world. Although he noted that this is still more of a goal than a reality and that differences between the U.S. and Vietnam continue, he emphasized that as ambassador he could testify that the two countries have shown how such differences can be overcome.
"The greater willingness to understand each other, at both official and people's levels, I think, has created a favorable condition for the two countries to overcome legacies of the tragic war in the past to look forward to the future."
The ambassador also thanked the "helpful hands" of Church members who have aided the people of Vietnam.
"Your effective and timely assistance helped ease the sufferings of many families in our country," he said.
In his remarks, Elder Hallstrom spoke of the great traditions of the Christian world and that Christians honor Jesus by seeking to be more like Him. But he also pointed out that the event was an opportunity to share the variety of the world's cultures and traditions.
"We come together in unity this evening celebrating our similarities — indeed our humanity," he said, emphasizing the universal love of family.
"We, as a Church and as a people, respect the traditions of our brothers and sisters around the world," he said, explaining that when missionaries return home from serving in other countries and cultures, they become ambassadors for the countries in which they lived.
"They speak local languages, have learned the customs, love the food, and often permanently take on traditions of their adopted nations," he added.
Two singers closed the program by performing "Silent Night" in Vietnamese. Afterwards, visitors toured various displays that included Nativity sets from 57 countries and four international trees covered with dolls. One guest taking relatives around was Danny La, a recent convert and member of the Arlington Second Ward of the McLean Virginia Stake, who was particularly proud to meet the ambassador.
"My parents brought me here as a child from Vietnam," he said. "I appreciated having this chance to meet the ambassador and show him that Mormonism has many faces, including Vietnamese-Americans. But what stood out to me most was being able to hear 'Silent Night' sung in my native tongue."